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International Women's Day Interview with Jenn Ayotte

This International Women's Day we had the honour of interviewing Maricann CEO and Cannabis Grower, Jenn Ayotte. In this article Jenn discusses her entryway into the cannabis industry, her experience as a woman in cannabis and the challenges she faced along the way. Check out our Q&A below.

A photo of Jenn Ayotte, Maricann CEO and Master grower, surrounded by cannabis plants.

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I'm M
aricann’s CEO Jennifer Ayotte and have been involved in the cannabis sector since initial recreational legalization in Colorado, USA. There, I oversaw cultivation, developed standard operating procedures and was responsible for both financials and government-mandated reporting. Subsequently, I provided cannabis consultations in Hawaii, Switzerland and Germany, prior to accepting the position of cultivation manager for Maricann’s existing and expanding licensed facility near Langton, Ontario.

I am certified in agronomy and horticulture and am a member of the Cannabis Council of Canada, Women Grow and ASTM - an organization formed to develop international standards for cannabis.

Q: What initially sparked your interest in cultivation?

A: I invested in one of the first licenses issued in Colorado, I soon realized I needed to be actively engaged or lose the investment. This sparked a non-stop self-exploration and betterment journey to both educate myself and provide guidance and leadership in order to ensure businesses could be sustainable and profitable in a challenging space.

Q: How did you arrive at Maricann?

A: I was enlisted to walk through and provide guidance inside its original grow facility in 2016. Average yield-per-plant subsequently doubled in one crop cycle, and I have been honoured to be part of the company since.

A photo of a cannabis lab with plants.

Q: To grow great flower, is it more important to have strong genetics or a great grower? Or both?

A: Great flower is a combination of strong genetics and a dedicated staff – the flowers are a direct result of the staff – the better the group the better the results. I like to say: ‘Happy people, happy plants.’

Q: Biggest challenges in the cannabis industry?

A: The largest challenges facing the cannabis industry is its infancy combined with a lack of stable information and practices.

Q: Favourite strain to grow? Why?

A: Balanced - Cali-O has unique and amazing flower that fills a greenhouse with the most amazing citrus scents.THC - Strawberry Ice – pungent and dense flower with beautiful red highlights.

Q: Which cultivation method do you prefer?

A: Growing method truly depends on climate and location of grow as well as what the grow can offer in terms of infrastructure. I have grown indoor, hybrid, outdoor, soil, soilless, hydroponic and pretty much every combination in between. Each brings its own advantages or disadvantages depending on locational circumstances.

Q: As a woman, I imagine it would be challenging to navigate such a male dominated industry. Have you ever faced any stigma around your gender?

A: In the very beginning there were so many more men in the space that seemed to have a following based solely on their gender. As a woman with little ‘history’, I would sometimes be disregarded initially by large companies. Then they would recognize that I differ from most ‘growers’ in that I can manage not only the grow but also the business side including compliance. This provides me unique insight. Since I can perform and have experience with each job, I am able to provide a holistic view of both challenges and opportunities, anticipating, preventing or providing work-arounds for the former, and capitalizing on the latter.

Q: How did you deal with those obstacles?

A: The best response to doubters is to prove them wrong through performance. I strive to keep learning and putting that knowledge into practice. This is a dynamically-evolving industry and adaptable perseverance is key. Regardless of gender, most growers are (by nature) kind and willing to share. Since there is no ‘magic’ sauce, it’s all in the subtle nuances individual growers employ through their experience that can be a differentiator.

A great grower makes decisions based on the information they have at the time. These are living plants that can make your day interesting in a hurry. Being able to react just as quickly - and effectively - is key to mitigating and stopping serious challenges and achieving consistent, quality results.

Jenn Ayotte in cannabis field.

Q: Can you tell us a story about a memorable experience for you as a woman in the cannabis industry?

A: When the inspectors arrived to do the initial inspection following legalization, I introduced myself and they wanted to know who was in charge and who else would be involved. I explained I would be the one involved with the inspection and they proceeded to barrage me with questions ranging from security to compliance. They began the inspection obviously doubtful that I could provide all the necessary information, but were in my opinion, pleasantly surprised I proved them thoroughly wrong by wrap-up.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: Be more assertive from the beginning and don’t stress and second-guess yourself.

Q: What advice would you give to any woman interested in tapping into the cannabis market?

A: The cannabis industry is not a get-rich-quick business model – this is one of the hardest businesses around but offers the most amazing career opportunities.

Q: What would you like to see change for the better in the cannabis industry?

A: Consistency in policies and practice. Universally-accepted industry-wide testing for THC and CBD.

By Nadia Bortolazzo
Nadia is an MA graduate and a Digital Content Specialist at Burb. Her writing is guided by her interest in challenging and expanding the ideologies surrounding cannabis culture. Instagram: @nadiabortolazzo.